Study Guide

Tears of a Tiger Themes

  • Mortality

    From the very beginning of Tears of a Tiger, we're asked to think about the idea of death. Robbie's death in the accident makes pretty much every character confront the fact that they are not immortal, a realization that surprises and scares the teens, who don't have much experience dealing with death. These kids don't feel invincible any longer, though, that's for sure. Plus Andy struggles with the value of his own life throughout the book, and ultimately decides to commit suicide. In short, death's on nearly every page of this book, Shmoopers.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. Think about Andy's relationship with death at different points in the novel. How does he think about death in the beginning? In the end? When he sees the wall where he crashed?
    2. How is Andy's death different than Robbie's? Do people respond to them in the same way?
    3. Andy tells us "It seems like bein' dead is the only way I'll ever feel alive again." What do you think he means by this? Do you think he accomplishes it?

    Chew on This

    Andy thinks that his life will get easier by dying, but it actually just ends his and makes everyone around him have a harder time.

    Robbie and Andy's deaths are equally tragic, though one was an accident and the other was a suicide.

  • Guilt and Blame

    Pretty much every student in Tears of a Tiger feels guilty at some point. Tyrone feels badly for having beer and thinking everything was funny the night of the accident; B.J. blames himself for not stopping the others from drinking; Keisha feels guilty for not sticking by Andy when he needed it. And Andy? He's got more than enough guilt to go around. That guy doesn't let himself feel anything but blame for Robbie's death. Plus, he's the only one who doesn't come to terms with his guilt.

    Eventually, the other characters learn to accept their part in Robbie's death or deal with the blame they feel each day, but not Andy. He keeps blaming himself until he can't take it any more.

    Questions About Guilt and Blame

    1. Is Andy to blame for Robbie's death? Why or why not? Should he blame himself as much as he does?
    2. Why does Andy visit the spot where the accident took place? Do you think it makes him feel more or less guilty?
    3. Do guilt and blame work together to bring reformation of any of the characters in this book? Why or why not? Can you have guilt without blame, or blame without guilt?

    Chew on This

    The thing Andy is guiltiest of never even crosses his mind: He fails to invest in the life he's lucky enough to walk away from the accident with.

    Andy's guilt over Robbie's death is completely justified. In fact, it's unfair that so many people want to let him get away with causing Robbie's death.

  • Race

    Tears of a Tiger depicts ordinary Americans who happen to be black—and, to some degree, explores how race impacts their lives. For the most part, race is a latent backdrop in the novel. Most of the time we're focused on the aftermath of the accident, and how Andy deals with it. However, part of his recovery process is talking about how he is treated differently because he's black—and his relationship with his identity as a black person is a point of conflict and distance for Andy with his family. And this distance, of course, is part of why Andy feels so alone.

    Questions About Race

    1. What would be different if Andy weren't black? Would it change anything in the novel?
    2. Why do the teachers and store clerks assume things about Andy because of his race? Do you think he fits their assumptions or not?
    3. How do Andy's parents react to racial identity? What is the difference between his mom's and his dad's reactions? How big of a deal is race in Andy's relationship with his parents?

    Chew on This

    Even though Andy experiences some racial stereotyping, he often brings teacher's assumptions and treatment on himself by acting out and forgetting assignments.

    Andy may experience racism, but ultimately the biggest problem race presents is within his own family unit.

  • Friendship

    Tears of a Tiger is the equivalent of a bro hug—think: gruff affection and hearty back pats, plus a little teasing tossed in on the side. But things go horribly wrong when Robbie dies in a car crash one night, leaving Andy all alone with a heavy dose of guilt. Andy's friendship with Robbie was one of the only good things in his life he could count on, and when that disappears, so does a lot of other good stuff in his life. In fact, Andy feels all alone. The other guys are totally down to be his pal still, but Andy just can't hang once Robbie's gone.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. What's the basis of Andy's friendship with Robbie? What do we learn about their friendship, aside from the brief scene where we see them together?
    2. Is true friendship limited to one person? Can Andy be best friends with more than one person?
    3. Why doesn't Andy reach out to his friends more after the accident? What is he dealing with that they are or are not?
    4. How does Andy's death impact his friends? Do you think Andy would have gone through with it if he knew how they would react to it?

    Chew on This

    Even though friendship is important to Andy, he throws away his friends after the accident.

    The rest of Andy's friends are great and all, but none of them stand a chance at measuring up to Robbie.

  • Drugs and Alcohol

    If you're looking for drugs and alcohol in Tears of a Tiger, you don't have to go very far—like, not even past the first page. There, you'll find the police report detailing that the guys were drinking the night of the accident. You might not think a couple of beers are a big deal—and neither did the guys—but these drinks ruin their lives. They go from being on a total high after winning a basketball game to losing their friend and struggling to get by. Alcohol might not get poured after that night, but we sure hear a lot about it and how it's made the boys feel long term.

    Questions About Drugs and Alcohol

    1. Why do you think the boys get beer in the first place? Does it seem like something they do often?
    2. B.J. claims he doesn't drink because it stunts growth, but he tells us he hates the taste. Why do you think he hangs around the others when they're drinking? Why doesn't he stop them from driving?
    3. How does the guys' memories of the accident differ from the actual events that occurred? What does the police report tell us that their descriptions do not? How are things different when Andy revisits the scene?

    Chew on This

    The main point of this book is to show readers just how far-reaching the impact of drinking and driving is. It doesn't just cause one death, after all, it causes two.

    Alcohol has nothing to do with Andy's death—instead, he commits suicide exclusively because he can't cope.

  • Darkness and Light

    Who's afraid of the dark? In Tears of a Tiger, a lot of people are. Over and over again, we see the light give in to darkness in the novel. When Andy tells us how he's feeling through poetry or his therapy sessions, he always comes back to the idea of darkness. It's partly tied to his notion of race and the colors used to symbolize racial identity, but there's more to Andy's use of dark and light than racial stereotypes. In fact, he often uses it to describe what's going on with him emotionally. Pretty soon, we get a sense of how he's feeling just by how light it is around him.

    Questions About Darkness and Light

    1. Why is darkness such a powerful image to Andy? When does he feel darkest?
    2. Who is light in the book? Why is Andy so dark in comparison?
    3. What do you think darkness represents? What comes to mind when you hear that someone is in darkness? How does this relate to Andy?
    4. Does Andy try to change his darkness at any point? Is he successful? Does he choose to be dark, or is he naturally that way?

    Chew on This

    Andy might live in the darkness, but he does so voluntarily by choosing not to deal with his issues.

    Keisha's positivity creates a lightness that contrasts with Andy's darkness, but even she can't pull him out of his depression.

  • Isolation

    Andy isolates himself after the accident. That's pretty much all we needed to say about the theme of isolation in Tears of a Tiger.

    Just kidding, we'll go on. When Andy feels overwhelmed by guilt after Robbie's death, he relies on Keisha to get him through. And boy, does she do her fair share—she listens to him anytime and puts up with his random mood swings. But she can't do this forever, and pretty soon, Andy is without Keisha, and feels like he's without anyone else, too.

    It turns out many people are there for Andy (Tyrone, B.J., Rhonda, to name a few), but he just doesn't realize it. So instead of actually being isolated, isolation is something Andy brings upon himself, to his own detriment. Big time.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Why does Andy isolate himself from people? Why doesn't he turn to his buddies after the accident?
    2. Who is lonely in the book and why? Is anyone not feeling isolated, the way Andy is? Why?
    3. Keisha says that friends make high school worth going to. Is this true? What does someone experience without any friends?
    4. How does Andy's isolation push him toward suicide? Do you think things would have gone differently if Andy managed to connect with any of the people he called right before he died? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Andy is alone in the end because he pushes everyone else away—ultimately, he only has himself to blame for his isolation.

    Andy's friends really drop the ball: They should have recognized the uniqueness of Andy's position as the person driving, and insisted on helping him through his grief.

  • Choices

    Andy's choices aren't so hot in Tears of a Tiger. First they lead to Robbie's death, then he stays on a path of destruction instead of getting help, and ultimately, Andy makes the choice to end his own life. So if we're thinking about what choices define our main man, we come up with a list of not-so-great ones. We're not trying to rag on Andy—he does that plenty himself—but we think it's important to point out that his choices leave him in a desperate state with few options. After all, other people suffer in the book, too, but none of them commit quite the way Andy does.

    Questions About Choices

    1. Does Andy's decision to drink ruin his life? Is his life over after the accident, or could he make difference choices to change his fate?
    2. How does Andy decide what to do in life? Why do you think he eventually decides to end his life?
    3. What do you think each character would change if they could have one do-over? Which choices impacted their lives the most?

    Chew on This

    Andy's choices in life are erased after the accident—depression officially takes over the show.

    While the accident is a tragedy, Andy consistently chooses not to try to get himself back on track.